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Horizon Council envisions a more diverse economy

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

The future of Lee County may rely less on beaches and buildings and more on untold promises of brand new industry.

The Horizon Council met last Friday, bringing together business leaders from around the county to pontificate these dreamy probabilities while dining on the buffet at Broadway Palm Theatre.

County economic leaders have several plans they are going to roll out over the next few months – including an increased internet presence and two new task forces aimed at private and institutional outreach – in hopes of revitalizing the county’s ailing economy.

Whether it be an expansion, a CEO who has a vacation home on Sanibel or a cousin who lives in Lehigh, the economic development office hopes to attract a number of businesses with existing ties to the county.

The county has already begun to move in that direction, having paid $350,000 to retain the expansion of a Fortune 500 company already operating in Lee that is projected to bring 200 jobs by 2013.

The caveat for this particular deal is that the name of the company will not be revealed until the state of Florida ponies up its portion of the grant – $600,000 – sometime in February.

The secrecy rankled Commissioners Frank Mann and Brian Bigelow at their meeting a few weeks ago.

Economic Development Office Director Jim Moore said the secrecy should not be taken negatively. The company merely chose to exercise a Florida statute, and the Horizon Council has protected itself through a contract that requires the company to repay the money if they do not produce as promised.

“If somebody tells you the Board of County Commissioners or the Horizon Council is wasting money, that’s not true,” Moore said. “It pays for itself many times over or we wouldn’t do it.”

The un-named company is one of five active expansion projects, and 30 recruitment projects currently under development, though, of course, Moore would not divulge the names of those companies either.

With 35 projects on the Horizon that don’t readily involve construction or beaches, Moore predicts a somewhat bright 2010.

This year, on the other hand, still seems as bleak as the unemployment rate on a rainy day.

“2009 is not going to be a good year… 2010 may start to turn up, but maybe not in Florida,” Moore said.

The county wants to help turn that corner by trying to rebrand Lee’s image. They’ve hired Atlas Advertising – a Colorado based consulting firm – to help fulfill that mission.

Atlas CEO Ben Wright said there were many things to celebrate in Lee – incentives, lifestyle destination, excellent airport with room to grow, passionate business leaders – but no one knows where Lee County actually is. By Wright’s estimation, Lee County is not even a blip on the international radar.

“Unless someone has been here, they won’t know it like business leaders of Lee know it,” he added.